Long-term Japan resident Jeremy Sanderson has had a passion for Japanese language and culture since his youth. After studying Japanese at university, a spell as a CIR on the JET Programme seemed the natural next step in his Japan experience and, after getting settled, he now calls Japan his home.
He told Jetlag about his adventures on JET, in sales, and now in Tokyo as chief executive of four companies.
What inspired you to join the JET Programme?
I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Japanese at SOAS, University of London, in spring 1998 and CLAIR was recruiting at my university. It seemed an excellent way to get some experience of living in Japan and polish up my Japanese language skills. I had been passionately interested in Japanese language and culture for over a decade prior to that point. I was already fluent in Japanese before I enrolled in university, so it was a very natural next step for me.
How did you find your experiences as a JET?
I was a CIR based in the Saitama Prefectural Government, so whilst part of my job was to be a Prefectural Advisor to ALTs, a large part of it was also related to supporting local government with translation, interpreting, proofreading of publications and so forth. This experience was to prove incredibly useful in my later business career, because it enabled me to perfect my keigo (honorific speech) and learn about formal business manners and how to deal with bureaucracy in Japan. The skills were very transferable and still serve me well today when I’m having meetings with big companies such as Toyota, Mitsubishi or Komatsu.
What have you been doing since finishing JET?
I took a sales job on leaving JET as it was one of the few professions where a combination of good language skills and soft skills could really be put to good use. I was worried about leaving JET because I didn’t have any so-called “hard” skills, but I have found that really strong soft skills, such as communication and problem-solving as well as a positive attitude and desire for constant self-improvement have been much more important. It’s easy to hire people with hard skills such as in computer science or accounting, but finding really creative and flexible polymaths is much harder.
After a couple of years in sales I joined a head-hunting company as a team manager and, five years later, I left to start my own company, Icon Partners KK, which I still own and manage today. An insatiable thirst for knowledge and continually improving my business skills has led to many opportunities, including other people asking me to manage their companies.
Today I am chief executive of four companies: a recruitment company, a serviced office business, a business-process outsourcing company and an LED lighting import and retail business. Life is never dull!
How do you think your current role can further UK-Japan ties?
My current role as a multiple entrepreneur means that I have a wide network of contacts and am able to solve a lot of business problems that others might find hard to do. This has put me in the position of being sought out as an advisor many times, especially around matters such as how to incorporate in Japan, how to obtain work visas, how to launch and manage companies, and how to hire and manage talent in Japan.
I am also frequently asked about doing business with domestic Japanese companies and handling the culture gaps inherent therein. A large part of my business is with very domestic entities where almost no English is spoken, so this experience has proven very useful to overseas business partners, including those in the UK.
What are your professional and personal Japan-related goals?
Professionally my goal is to make my recruitment company, Icon Partners KK, the undisputed market leader in supply chain management and logistics-related recruitment in Japan.
Additionally my ambition is to become outright market leader in the heavy-duty LED work-light market in Japan with my LED lighting business, Tyri Japan KK, which I established nearly two years ago.
I have some really great team members in both Icon Partners and Tyri, around half of whom are Japanese and half bilingual non-Japanese from around 10 countries. Being part of a business success story is an amazing life experience, one which will fill my staff with confidence for the future. I very much want to deliver such an amazing growth experience to them.
On the personal side, right now I’m learning to sail, and becoming a proficient sailor is my immediate goal. Buying a yacht is the next step, but don’t tell my wife yet!